Stability and Freedom…and Skiing

It’s snowing here, so, like a lot of folks in Teton Valley, I’m starting to think about skiing.  I taught a three-hour practice devoted to ski-safe leg and hip alignment this morning, so that got me thinking even little more.  This intersection of yoga and skiing is an interesting one…one that allows us to look at lessons and learnings in one discipline to see how they apply in another.

If you ask most of us why we like to ski, we say something like “I love to turn off my chattering brain and go fast,” or “I love the flow of cruising downhill on snow,” or “I love being outside moving my body.”  Essentially, we’re saying that we love to feel freedom.  We skiers want to be free from our noisy minds, free to be one with the environment, and free to move in whatever way creates grace.  Which actually sounds a lot like why we yogis come to our mats as well…

Meanwhile, all that freedom we seek on the ski hill can be risky.  Screaming downhill with no attention to terrain or technique is likely to result in a painful and debilitating injury – the kind that will seriously impact your skiing future, not to mention your freedom.  In order to keep the fun safe, we’ve got to add stability into the mix.  Stability in skiing comes from skill, thoughtfulness, knowledge of the terrain, strength, conditioning, good judgment, and a host of other factors that we take very seriously in order to be able to play in the snow all winter.  While not everyone realizes this, unlimited freedom in yoga can be risky as well.  When students come to class with little ability to “engage muscle energy” – that is, to hug skin to muscle and muscle to bone, to draw into their midlines and fire up at their peripheries — they scare their yoga teachers!  These students tend to be really flexible, flopping into deep forms of poses where they risk connective tissue tears, muscle pulls, and more.  They need stability too, in the form of engagement.

This morning, we worked a lot with the Anusara Yoga alignment principle of “muscle energy” in order to create an environment of stability around the knee, the body part most likely to be hurt while skiing.  Muscle energy starts in your feet when you spread your toes. This action in turn fires up the muscles on your outer shins – your peroneus muscles (try it and look – you’ll see a “racing stripe” on your outer shin). The peroneus longus

These muscles not only hold your shin firmly over your ankle, they also embrace your knee joint in a way that prevents its lateral movement (lateral movement in knee = bad, ouch!).  We like that!

Another muscle energy action involves scissoring your legs together, as though you’re trying to squeeze the air between them.  Your inner thighs have to work hard to do this.  We call this action “hugging to the midline,” and it too creates a sense of stability and centeredness.  When we practiced this action today, one of our great YogaTejas students pointed out that she felt the same way in our midline exercise as she does when skiing at our local hill on a foggy day.  Great observation – and no surprise, really!  When the visibility is low, most of us get a little fearful. The chances of getting thrown around and injured increase, and our sense of stability decreases.  Forget freedom, we just want to survive.


So what do we do with all this stability?  On the mountain, we trust it enough to go faster, or ski longer, or explore new lines with grace.  In short, in supports us so that we can be more open to the experience.  In the yoga studio, we use it to find more space.  When you establish boundaries in your feet and legs through muscle energy, you create room in your hips for breath, prana, and expansion.  More expansion means more freedom (freedom = feeling good!)

Ski alignment workshoppers help each other find freedom in their hips

If you’ve done yoga for more than a month, I bet you’ve attended a class where the dance between stability and freedom was the central theme.  It’s a common one, simply because it is so pervasive in our daily lives.  It’s not much of a leap to take our theme one more step, beyond yoga and skiing into our daily lives.  Everyone wants to feel free….but too much freedom is terrifying!  What do you do all day?  Who are you if you have no commitments at all?  Yikes.  Too much stability is constraining, yes.  But just the right amount of engagement, grounding and hugging in – in the form of a place to live, a job to do, a passion to follow and a person to love – well, those give us just enough confidence and rooting to allow us to open ourselves to possibility and reach for our wildest dreams.

It seems, then, that yoga and skiing are both laboratories for life.  In fact, it looks like they’re also laboratories for each other, letting us explore the stability/freedom pulsation from both a hardwood floor and a slippery slope.  More parallels, more patterns, more learning.  We like that.



~ by bridgetannlyons on November 6, 2011.

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